"Shh... calm down. It's alright, baby." It was a name she had taken to in the last few months, a name that was not so easily let go of. She loved it, and she was sure that if the child in her arms wasn't struggling so desperately to maintain at least a decent composure, one devoid of tears and of sadness, then he would have rejected this horrendous nickname.
(Name) chuckled softly, comfortingly; there was no humour in the situation. She only hoped that it would bring some sort of serenity to the child in her arms. He only bawled harder, though, and tried to push falling strands of blonde from pale flesh. She sighed inwardly and pushed his hair back for him, tucking stray locks behind his little ear.
"I know how you feel, kiddo. I would've reacted the same way when I was a kid if my mum called me that." It was true, not at all a taunt or a lie, but the kid seemed to think it was; he screamed and kicked against her, and she did well to control him at first--she might be fit to be a mother someday, after all.
It was only when he kicked her hard in the chest that she was forced to reconsider this option. That baby kicks hella hard, she winced.
"I'm not a baby!" he practically shrieked before trying to tear out of her arms. He only managed a few wobbling steps away from her, and she knelt on the warm, wet carpet (he'd spilt his milk here moments before when she asked that he drink in order to stay alive), and watched as the boy slumped suddenly onto the floor and continued to sob.
She crept up behind him and sneaked an arm around his thin waist--no protests rang sharply through the air as usual, and she took this as an opportunity to pull him closer to her. He was warm. Skinny, but warm. The kid's like a stick. He really should eat more, damn it. Or he'll die...
She cradled him and carefully pulled him into her lap. Again, no protests or shouts of anger. This was good. "Calm down, baby." No retorts to that either. Finally the boy had decided to acknowledge her as his caretaker... or else he'd broken.
(Name) didn't want that.
"What's wrong, Luddy?" she asked him; a mistake that she would surely remember. He stopped writhing in her grip suddenly. Still as a stick, he rested his slumped form against her heavily breathing one, and she said, slowly and uncertainly: "Luddy?"
There was a sudden harsh slap to her cheek as she doubled back from the punch she received in the stomach. A cough reached her lips, and she bent over with the impact and pain of the hit. Who knew a little kid could punch someone so damned hard?
"Don't call me that!" He was screaming again. Crying. Bawling at the top of his lungs. This boy... she coughed and tried to inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale... to the best of her abilities. It must have been the war that had toughed up Ludwig Beilschmidt.
As far as she knew, nothing else was capable of putting such a hurting intent into a little child like this.
Oh, wait--that wasn't possible. He'd been born in 1943--the year when the war had finally ended had followed two years afterwards. There was no way this rebellious little scamp could have seen much. And even if he did, memories would be faint.
"Ludwig, calm down. Will you just..." The statement was cut off with her own short sigh. It seemed as if the blonde boy could never get a grip of himself. Well, she couldn't blame him.
1947. That was when she'd gotten him.
1947... now, they'd never told her that much about his family. Was that the problem? Did the little brat--(Name) hated to call him this, but at times she felt it was only necessary to describe his behaviour in this fashion--even have a family?
They found him on the streets, were some of the few words the woman who'd handed the boy over had told her two months ago. She remembered first seeing Ludwig, standing beside the psychologist who had a vice grip on his hand as if it were dangerous to let the child roam free.
She hadn't gotten anything out of him, at any rate, and by the time the lady from the adoption service had finally come back, (Name) hadn't managed to wrestle even a word out of the four-years-old boy.
The only thing she'd learnt about the boy was that his name was Ludwig Beilschimdt, that he was four years of age, and that he'd been wandering helplessly around Berlin before he'd been picked up by the adoption agency.
From then on, the boy had practically traveled Europe; they'd first tried to place him with his relative in Austria, a man by the name of Roderich, but Mr. Edelstein was too busy recovering from the war himself... not to mention he had a wife and two temporarily adopted Italian boys already in his care, both bruised and bloodied by the bombs and the numerous beatings they'd received on the streets.
Then they'd tried Arthur Kirkland; however, it seemed the Englishman wasn't fond of Germans, and in the end Ludwig had been so distant from Arthur and far too noisy and cruelly loud for the quiet neighborhood that Kirkland couldn't stand it anymore and in the end turned Ludwig back to the agency.
They'd managed to get something out of the now six-years-old boy about Arthur's inhumanly cooking, but nothing much that could be of use to the proper family for a kid like Ludwig.
Then they'd settled with (Name). That made sense--(Name), living in a bustling city in America, a clearly able woman with a foothold in society in this time. The 1950s was no place for a little boy to be alone in Berlin, and so they'd set up something with (Name); after all, she'd volunteered for it when she'd visited the agency in her trip to Europe to meet an old friend of her's, Alfred, who was still cleaning up the mess in some of the countries that had participated in the war. Perhaps it was the reassurance that (Name) would have to give the child to the American adoption agency that soothed the woman that she'd talked to about the ordeal, but in the end, Ludwig was more than hers.
It was clear Ludwig's heart wasn't in this adoption; and yet, he was here, in her home, spilling milk on her carpet and threatening to make her ears burst with the awful din he was creating with his screams and yells.
If (Name) were a lesser woman, then she would have turned Ludwig away to an orphanage already. But she wasn't; she was determined to dig through to the heart of this boy.
That is, if he has one for me to get through to. No doubt that he does have a heart, but... the barriers he's built are hella strong.
"Ludwig." The bawls grew louder; the intensifying of the screams were killing her already. Why didn't this kid's throat ever get sore?!
"Luddy!" she was the one screaming now, and before she could control herself, she'd tackled the kid to the ground; pressed him against the carpet enough to restrain him. However, Ludwig only kicked and screamed harder. "Can't you fucking shut up?!" It was clear that this wasn't appropriate language for a seven-years-old boy. But if it would make him quiet down, she'd do it.
"Luddy! Just get the fuck up, look me in the eye, and see how you're acting!" This seemed to have some sort of effect on Ludwig; he sat up a bit, still quivering with the sobs that racked his body, and managed to set his ice-blue eyes on hers. She stared straight back. "Look me in the eye, Luddy," he shuddered at this new nickname that she'd come up with and was determined to use in the past few minutes that he'd been kicking and scraping at her. "And tell me how unawesome you're being right now. Does a man act this way, for God's sake?! Man up, Luddy!"
There was a pregnant pause.
He stared at her with wide eyes, at the expectant expression of the taller woman who sat before him, at the narrowed, determined eyes and the pursed, thin lips. At the messy, unruly hair she sported.
And he was on her, crying and hugging at her, tugging at her hair, and (Name) did not protest, only holding onto Ludwig as if he were the last thing in her world.
She didn't know why he was suddenly so, although non verbally, forthcoming with her. The only thing she cared about was that she'd finally managed to break the walls down.
An hour later, Ludwig had taken his milk and fallen into deep slumber... a soothing calm she'd never imagined he'd be capable of.
This was the boy who poured out entire glue bottles at school and kicked over buckets of water. This was the pupil who refused to eat his biscuits or drink his milk or even take a short nap.
And yet here he was. In her home. Drinking her milk. Taking a nap like he was told to. What had spiked this sudden change?
(Name) wondered this as she carried him up in her arms to bed.
A week later, he'd discover that Ludwig was the young brother of the Beilschmidt family, raised and taught by his older brother, somewhere halfway between a maniacal teenager and a devoted soldier who more or less hated the rules and the reign of Nazis. This ruby-eyed man, as reported by Ludwig, had been fond of beer, sausages, and birds. Not as mature as would be ideal for raising a child.
They'd left their home, where both their parents had insisted on raising Ludwig to follow the Third Reich. Wandered Berlin for three months. Finally getting a shared apartment in 1945 with a few other merciful Germans that shared their ideals and morals.
Ludwig was only two then. Indeed, he had no memory of the war or of their greed-consumed parents. Only a life with the elderly couple and the kind, very much adored brother he'd lived with.
What he did remember was Gilbert Beilschmidt lying beaten and bloody in an alleyway in 1947, very much dead and still. Lifeless.
All because he had twenty Reichsmarks on him.
She'd heard a great deal about this Gilbert from Ludwig. How he was a brother to die for. How he was a great soldier--no, how he could've been a great soldier had he joined the army at the time. But no, Gilbert was courageous in his hate for the Third Reich; instead, he'd spirited his baby brother and his own self away from that life.
He'd paid the price for recklessness and hotheadedness in the end. But that was what defined Gilbert, what defined the very essence of his soul. Iin Ludwig's eyes, he'd always be a hero.
"Big brother was always telling me to man up," he'd told (Name) that night as they sat by the fireplace with cups of hot chocolate in their hands. "He liked the word awesome. And he liked it when I didn't cry. He wanted me to be big and grown up... and he said to get over the things in life that made you sad. Gilbert only wanted everyone to be better. That way," said the boy, gazing up with wide eyes at (Name), "He said that everyone could get along. And that there wouldn't be people who caused wars like these anymore. Because everyone would get better and realize the things they do wrong. Like Gilbert."
Indeed Gilbert had regretted pulling Ludwig into a life of poverty and of running away constantly for his mistakes, mistakes that were always the spawn of recklessness. Of temper. But he'd never once regretted taking Ludwig away from a life of hardheartedness and death.
"Sounds like Gilbert was a brave man," smiled (Name). "And a good one too."
Ludwig shook his little head at this, light blonde hair falling into his eyes. "No. He is a good man." The boy had crawled over to (Name)--without warning, raising a finger to her a spot on the left side of her chest. "He's still in here. Gilbert is a good person. And so are you, (Name)."
She brushed his hair aside and tucked it in again with a laugh. "I doubt I can ever be as good as your big brother is, Ludwig. But here, I'll make sure I at least teach you one thing. Did you ever wear hair gel, Ludwig?"
"No," he said hesitantly, "Gilbert liked to wear his hair messy."
"Well," grinned (Name), hoisting him into her lap. "I'll at least teach you to brush back your hair. And while we're at it, let's teach you some manners. First lesson?"
"What?" asked Ludwig, craning his head to look at her curiously.
"I heard you got into trouble at school with your foul mouth." Ludwig flushed at this. "In front of the girls." At this, he turned a bright red. "First lesson! No using language! And never, ever mess with girls! Understand?"
"Say 'yes, ma'am', Luddy!!"
"And always salute your captain!"
And thus Ludwig Beilschmidt developed a sense of propriety, awkwardness around women, and an uptight way of living.
It looks like we can blame this all on you, Reader-san.